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12 Monkeys Stars Talk New Series “It’s a Much More Epic Story”

By on January 15, 2015

Pictured: (l-r) Aaron Stanford as Cole, Amanda Schull as Railly -- (Photo by: Alicia Gbur/Syfy)

It’s been 20 years since 12 Monkeys first hit the big screen.

Imbued with his own unique brand of dystopian surrealism by director Terry Gilliam, and starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt, the film told a tale of a condemned prisoner sent back in time from a bleak and hopeless future to prevent a global viral outbreak responsible for decimating the human population and destroying the planet.

Costing 29 million to make, 12 Monkeys grossed over 158 Million worldwide and went on to receive 2 Oscar nominations.

Now for the first time in 20 years, Atlas Entertainment (producers of the original film) have teamed up with Universal Cable Productions and Syfy for a retelling of the story.

12 Monkeys, the series, will premiere on Syfy in January 16. Nikita and X-Men star Aaron Stanford takes on the role of time-traveller Cole, with SuitsAmanda Schull as his reluctant partner Dr. Cassandra Railly. The pair are joined, both in the the past and future, by notable guest stars including Tom Noonan (Hell on Wheels), Zelijko Ivanek (Argo) and Todd Stashwick (Warehouse 13) and more.

As before, Cole is sent back in time to 2013 to stop the plague from ever happening. Following clues left on a damaged and fragmented recording, he tracks down a well-respected virologist (Schull’s Railly) to help him. Though she struggles to believe what he is saying is even possible, the meeting begins their fateful mission to find Leland Frost who may be linked to the source of the outbreak.

Curious fans of the film should know two things. First, the series isn’t a straight up remake of the original. Characters, events and outcomes differ wildly from the 1995 film. Additionally there are enough secondary characters and new plot developments to keep even the most ardent film fans surprised and entertained.

Secondly, the series doesn’t have that off-kilter, nihilistic sadness of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or The Zero Theorem. Syfy’s 12 Monkeys offers a capable and pacy Friday night slice of sci-fi along the lines of Grimm, Constantine or Helix.

ScreenSpy recently sat down with 12 Monkeys stars Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull to discuss the new series in more detail. Full highlights from our conference call follow below.

Pictured: Aaron Stanford as James Cole -- (Photo by: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)

Pictured: Aaron Stanford as James Cole — (Photo by: Ben Mark Holzberg/Syfy)

On similarities between the TV Series and 1995 Movie

Aaron Stanford:  Well, I’m a huge fan of the original movie and I was excited to get involved in the project for that reason. What I like about it is it’s a chance to expand and explore the universe of 12 Monkeys on a much larger scale. It’s a great chance to turn it into a much more epic story.

You know, the film 12 Monkeys was based on a short film called La Jetée by a filmmaker named Chris Marker in 1962. And it was basically the same plotline but it was a very different execution. It was a small bite sized chunk and then 12 Monkeys took that and they expanded it and made it their own and now what we’ve done is the same thing. 12 Monkeys is the inspiration and it’s the source material and we took that and we turned it into something different and much more expansive.

Amanda Schull:   Also you don’t need to be just a fan of the film or just a fan of the series. I think you can be both because, as Aaron said, we expanded but also our characters are different from the film and the storylines are different from the film. It’s got the same sort of original kernel but it’s own entity.

You know we have this luxury of researching episodes. We’re not constrained by time. So, we have a lot of different characters that are introduced and – with guest stars and storylines that I think will be interesting both for people who love the movie and people who aren’t familiar with the movie.


(Photo  by: Alicia Gbur/Syfy)

(Photo by: Alicia Gbur/Syfy)


Did you take any inspiration from your movie counterparts?

Aaron Stanford:   For me, you know, it was a really interesting role for Bruce Willis, and what he did with it. He’s generally remembered for his action roles like John McClane, but he really brought this child-like innocence to the role in 12 Monkeys and it was expressed in his experience of our present. This was a man coming from an unimaginably unpleasant, difficult place where all of the pleasures, comforts, and everything, art, it was all stripped away from him.

So his experience of our world was very similar to that of a newborn. He’s experiencing everything for the very first time and I really liked that choice and that idea, so I did try to bring a little bit of that to my performance as well.

Amanda Schull:  I didn’t re-watch the film before we shot the pilot. I didn’t want to try to – I didn’t want Madeleine’s performance to affect my performance because we’re different characters and I don’t think I could ever out-do her performance. She’s brilliant! So, I didn’t. I made the choice to be different from that. We are different characters in a lot of senses, different careers and a different life trajectory.

But, going forward in the series, I did watch the film before we shot the show and I think that the soft spot that Dr. Railly has for Cole is probably a very similar dynamic as in the film. A lot of things can happen on the periphery, but at the core there’s a connection between these two characters.


Pictured: (l-r) Aaron Stanford as Cole, Amanda Schull as Railly, Noah Bean as Aaron -- (Photo  by: Alicia Gbur/Syfy)

Pictured: (l-r) Aaron Stanford as Cole, Amanda Schull as Railly, Noah Bean as Aaron — (Photo by: Alicia Gbur/Syfy)


With news of pandemics hitting our headlines almost daily, is 12 Monkeys more relevant now than it was 20 years ago? 

Aaron Stanford:  There’s a lot going on right now for sure, but honestly I think that this subject has been ripe for exploration for a very, very long time. Right now everyone’s mind is on the newspaper headlines about Ebola, so that’s what you’re thinking about right now. But you know this type of thing has been going on for a very, very long time. It was the plague in the Middle Ages, and the influenza outbreak in the early 20th century, in 1918 and more recently, H1N1 and the list goes on and on. You know, it’s been a very viable threat for a really long time and now just as much as ever.


We’ve seen the first handful of episodes a little early. There are a lot of guest stars with intriguing plot lines in the pipework for fans to look forward to. Can you tease anything about Demore Barnes and Todd Stashwick’s roles?

Aaron Stanford:  Yes, I think we’re allowed to tease out. They’re both from the future and they’re both pitted against each other on opposite sides. And one of them is going to be sort of like a scavenger king, and he’s leading an assault against Demore and the vestiges of civilization.


Can you both speak a little about the chemistry between Cole and Cassandra?

Aaron Stanford:   It gradually develops over time. It’s not like a film where you read the scripts and you know what the story is from beginning to end, because you have the whole script right in front of you. We don’t really know the whole story at the jump. So you know, you’re watching the relationship sort of unfold in real time, from my perspective anyway. They’re thrown together by fate. They don’t really have much choice in the matter and they’re very, very different people. They’re absolute opposites, but through the crucible of this very difficult mission they form a bond.


Amanda Schull:  I could add to that working with Aaron, just from a personal level, not from character level, he shows at the set very prepared and he gives you a 110 percent for every single scene, for every single page. And so, I think that helped with just our on-set chemistry, which hopefully translates to the on camera chemistry. It’s nice working with someone who gives you as much as you give them, and you can have an equal relationship and that has allowed us to be honest with the material because we both invest completely into each character.

12 Monkeys debuts on Syfy Friday January 23 at 9 pm.

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